Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Muddy Water

The past week or so has been pretty tough. Last Monday was a nightmare, with the teams not even leaving base until 11:30. The Logistics team has been in Kampala for a training, which has left the Gulu base falling apart at the seams. Confusion over which vehicle is going where, changes in planning due to poor prior planning, people being sick, people being lazy, unmotivated. It's difficult managing a team when your support staff falls apart and you suddenly find yourself wearing more than a few hats.

Last Friday I joined the Hygiene Promotion team for a School Event Day at Bucoro school. The Event days (which are preceded by a teacher-training day) aim to involve the students, and educate the students, on proper sanitation and hygiene practices. The day began with a lot of waiting, as most meetings/event do. I wandered around the school grounds, looking sadly at the vandalized rainwater collection systems and the semi-functional EcoSan latrines. The head teacher told me that some local boys would take some drugs and come to the school to destroy things. Not to take parts to sell, but just to break them. The urine diversion system was broken, leaving the urine to just drain onto the ground next to the latrine blocks. The main pipes for the rainwater collection system were missing, allowing the water to pour off the roof, just before the tank. The taps on the tanks were gone, leaving only a hole - preventing any water from actually being stored in the tanks. I suggested a rubber stopper as a temporary fix.

It's difficult, sometimes, to fathom why people do certain things. Actions of destruction with no apparent benefits other than some joy it might enliven during the action. I looked sadly at the broken systems, wondering what could be done to address the broken pipes - simply fixing them wouldn't be enough. The fundamental issue of community dis-involvement, the misunderstanding or naivete of those people - do they not get why these things are in place, were introduced to the school? Do they not understand that their actions are having negative ramifications on the health and livelihoods of the 1,200 children in Bucoro school?

I get overwhelmed sometimes, thinking about the problems, the sheer size of the issues, and find it so easy just to throw up my hands, to secede, to give up. It's hard to see the impact of one's small actions when there is so much suffering, so much pain. It makes me think of the Four Noble Truths, principles in Buddhism. The first Truth explains that life is suffering; the second states that there is a cause to this suffering, and that cause is desire, craving, need; the third asserts that the cessation of this desire and craving is attainable; and the fourth declares there is a path that leads one to cessation of desires - this is the Eightfold Path.

While I wouldn't call myself a practicing Buddhist, many of the beliefs and ideas I follow and support. Though, while I look at the Four Noble Truths, it is hard to say that the suffering that those face in poverty is due to desires. Perhaps the desires of others, but then there is not a way for one to intercept the cravings of outsiders. So how to apply these theologies to the impoverished? The Eightfold Path describes the actions one takes to remove suffering, through Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration. It is described as a practical guideline to ethical and mental development. So how can a village, stricken by poverty, without access to basic needs, follow this Path to enlightenment? It is as with any religion that I find myself questioning - can Faith really save one's life? I am cynical, yes, but even as I read through the ideas of Buddhism, I find myself questioning this as well, when I often say, if anything, I am Buddhist. Perhaps, though, we can think of the thoughts of Buddhism as a much larger perspective - it is not about the now. It is in the sense that your actions dictate your path to enlightenment, but your actions may not necessarily address the inflictions of disease. I suppose that living one's life pure, clean, loving and free of desires allows one to see with more clarity those things in life that are important.

The day before I left for Uganda, I flipped open 366 Readings from Buddhism to this page:
Making Muddy Water Clean

On the journey to Kusinara the Buddha left the road, and leaned against a tree. He said to Ananda: 'Spread out your robe for me. I am very weary, and must rest for a while.' Ananda folded his robe in four, and spread it on the ground. The Buddha sat down on it.

The the Buddha, pointing to a nearby stream, said: 'I am thirsty. Fetch me some water.' Ananda replied: 'Just now several carts have crossed the stream, stirring up the bed. So the water is very muddy. Let me carry you to another river, where the water is clear and pure. There you can quench your thirst, and also cool your limbs.' But the Buddha again said: 'I am thirsty. Fetch me some water.'

Ananda protested a second time, but the Buddha was insistent. So Ananda went to the nearby river, carrying the Buddha's bowl. To his astonishment the water was clear and pure. He cried out: 'How great is my master's power! He can make muddy water clean.' He filled the Buddha's bowl with water, and took it back to him. The Buddha drank his fill, and then rose to continue the journey.
Maha Parinibbana Sutta 4.21-25

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